11 steps to buying furniture at a real-life auction

After my popular post last week about how we’ve furnished our home on a budget, I’ve had so many questions about all the auction bargains we’ve collected over the years that I thought it necessary to write up a little guide so that you can start buying amazingly priced, but beautiful, good-quality furniture for your homes too.  In a poll created on my Instagram stories, 87% of you shared you have never bought anything at auction which shows it is a massively underused tool amongst our generation.  Despite the gracious words of my husband… “as long as they don’t all start coming to our one and bidding against us for the good stuff”, I’ve decided to utilise that old cliché of ‘sharing is caring’… so here are the basic steps for how it works logistically which I hope will give you the confidence to explore this option further.

11 steps to buying furniture at a real-life auction

So, here’s my step-by-step guide to how it all works:

  1. If you’re in the UK, you can search for your local auction or sale room here.
  2. Every saleroom works slightly differently, so it’s best to have a look on their individual websites for what auctions they run and when they are.  For instance, we go to one at the moment which hosts a monthly Home and Interiors Auction on a Saturday morning but you can view the items up for sale all day on the Friday before.  Growing up, (my dad started taking me when I was 12 and by the time I could drive I was going by myself, buying small bits of furniture and then struggling to fit them all in my Metro!) I went to one which held weekly sales on a Friday evening where the saleroom was open for a few hours beforehand for viewing, followed immediately by the sale itself.
  3. Choose the right sale.  Auction houses host many different sales through out the month and unless you have a big budget and a very grand house, I would generally avoid any with the word antique in them as that tends to be the more specialist items which go for big bucks.  If you’re looking for good quality second-hand furniture (some of it which are antique but probably not deemed ‘collectable’) then search for sales with titles like Home and Interiors Auction or General Household Furniture & Effects etc etc.
  4. When you arrive, you’ll need to buy a ‘sale catalogue’ for a couple of quid (take cash) which has all the items for sale, their lot numbers, a description and an estimated value.
  5. Now EXPLORE! Make notes of all the items you like in your catalogue, circle the lot numbers, take pictures and measure up.  Don’t feel afraid to open cupboards, drawers, trial out a chair, or move items that are on top of others… this is where real-life auctions by far exceed the eBay experience as you know exactly what you are bidding on.
  6. Before the sale begins, you need to register for a bidding number which can usually be done at the reception.  You will then receive an ‘auction paddle’, which in the olden days would have been a numbered wooden sign, but now is much more likely to just be a laminated piece of card with your registered number on it!
  7. Find a comfy seat (some auctions can take up to four hours!) and prepare yourself with a drink and some refreshments to keep you going.
  8. The auctioneer will call out the lot numbers in order and bidding will commence.  You’ll learn greatly from watching others do it, but you will notice that it does all move pretty quickly so you need to pay attention and ensure you know what lot numbers correspond to the items you want to bid on, and have a good idea of how much you’re prepared to go up to (plus the buyers premium-more on that next week)
  9. Each lot will generally start at the estimated value price (to save time) but if their aren’t any bids at that amount, the auctioneer will go lower to get the ball rolling.  Bidding happens pretty much as you may have seen in the movies, just raise your bidding card to your shoulder to make a bid.  If the bidding has gone too high for you, a little shake of the head will generally suffice to show you’re no longer interested, although you could always nip back in at the last second if you change your mind!  Everyone, especially the dealers, have their own style though which is always fun to observe!
  10. If you are the highest bidder when the gavel (the auctioneers ‘hammer’) hits the desk, hurrah! You’ve won! Amongst the excitement though, just make sure you hold your number up clearly so that the auctioneer can make a note of it.
  11. Once the auction has finished, you’ll need to go and pay for the items you won before collecting them.  They will probably then give you some paperwork which you can show to a porter who will help you retrieve your winning pieces.

So now you know what happens at an auction, you’re ready to go, right?! Well stay tuned for some more vital information next week, as myself and expert Catherine Hockley, the Director at Andrew Smith & Son Auction House, will be sharing some great advice from auction etiquette and buyers premium, to what you should take with you to ensure your auction trip is stress-free, fun and successful.


11 steps to buying furniture at a real-life auction
This solid wood dining table from the auction cost £160 and the dining chairs were £25 for six.

Have you ever bought something at auction? Is it something you would like to do? Let me know in the comments below…


Related blog posts:

How to buy furniture at auction like a pro

How to furnish your home on a low or non-existent budget

How we Exposed a Brick Wall, so YOU can too!

You can also follow me here:





  1. I’ve bought some great stuff at an auction in Cornwall, mostly china but it does move fast and my heart was pounding! Nothing beats winning though!

  2. I think it would be a lot of fun to participate in an auction as I haven’t ever done so yet. It was crazy to learn that some auctions can go on for up to four hours! I’ll make sure I wear something comfortable when I go to an auction in case I’m there for a while.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *